Foreign Correspondent: The Challenge for Joe Biden

I’m pissed. I’m pissed at Donald Trump for trying to shut down the vote count early and at Republicans seeking to steal the election using conservative-appointed federal judges.

But I’m also mad at Joe Biden and the Democratic Party big shots who barely squeaked into office in a campaign that should have been a blowout. The country faces a deadly pandemic, a massive recession, history’s largest budget deficit, and a frequently exposed system of institutional racism. What more would it take to trounce Trump, a plague of locusts?

Today, the United States is considerably weaker, wracked by recession, and politically divided. People are fed up with endless wars. Regional powers such as Turkey, Russia, and Iran are exerting influence in areas formerly under U.S. domination.

Biden’s campaign was supposed to be the moderate alternative to extremist Trump. Lunch Pail Joe was supposed to win back the support of white, blue-collar workers who had defected to the Republicans. Campaign organizers said he would energize Black and Latinx voters. But there wasn’t much of a shift among non-college educated men. And those folks who did go Democratic largely voted against Trump, not for Biden. It’s as if Biden had undergone an enthusiasm bypass.

Trump’s populist appeal has strong racist and misogynist elements, but also reflects a genuine anger at economic inequality and endless wars. If Biden simply returns to mainstream Democratic Party governance, it won’t satisfy the Democratic Party base nor those Trump supporters with legitimate complaints.

So what is to be done?

Biden will have his hands full reversing Trump’s disastrous domestic policies. But he can also make serious changes in U.S. foreign policy.

Biden can implement progressive and popular policies during his first 100 days in office, programs that he already promised and which don’t require Congressional approval. These include:

Stop the war in Yemen: This years-long conflict, which benefits no one but the oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has killed more than 100,000 people and caused the preventable deaths of 113,000 children. Biden could immediately freeze weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, forcing them to stop bombing civilians and withdraw their troops. It would be one step toward ending unpopular, endless wars.

Earlier this year, Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans in the Senate voted to invoke the War Powers Act to stop funding the Yemen war. It was vetoed by Trump.

To his credit, Biden supported the war powers resolution. His campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates told The Washington Post, “Vice President Biden believes it is past time to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen and cancel the blank check the Trump Administration has given Saudi Arabia for its conduct of that war.”

Rejoin the Paris climate agreement: Human-caused climate change is real. Lower temperatures are melting the polar ice caps and contributing to a host of disasters from intense hurricanes along the Gulf coast to wildfires in California. The Paris Agreement was ratified by nearly 200 countries in April 2016 with the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The agreement, which the United States officially exited on November 4, has serious flaws. For example, all carbon emission reductions are voluntary. Rejoining the agreement will send a message to the world that Washington takes the issue seriously. The administration should develop immediate plans for a much stronger international climate accord.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan states that he “will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, but will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.” The plan advocates “a 100 percent clean energy economy [in the United States] and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Lift Trump’s unilateral oil blockade of Cuba and restore normal diplomatic relations: Trump has gone further to economically attack Cuba than any other President. He cut off much of Cuba’s oil supplies from Venezuela by applying sanctions against international shipping companies. This, combined with a halt in foreign tourism, has wrecked the Cuban economy. Public transport doesn’t have enough gasoline; trucks can’t bring produce from the countryside.

The people of Cuba pose no danger to the United States. During the later part of Barack Obama’s presidency, people from the United States freely visited Cuba, to the benefit of both countries.

During the campaign, Biden said, “As President, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

With a stroke of the pen Biden could lift the oil embargo, re-open U.S. visits to Cuba, and fully staff the Embassy in Havana, which is now operating with a skeleton crew.

Rejoin the Iran nuclear accord: Trump unilaterally withdrew from the internationally binding Iran nuclear accord and imposed harsh economic sanctions on the Iranian people. This policy of “maximum pressure” has failed to change Iranian domestic or foreign policy. Biden should immediately rejoin the accord and lift all sanctions related to nuclear issues.

In September, Biden wrote, “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” He added that the new administration would lift the “disgraceful” ban that prohibits Iranians and people from other Muslims nations from entering the United States.

But Biden’s promises were couched in bellicose, Cold War rhetoric about Iran’s alleged threats to the United States. Democratic and Republican hawks will certainly pressure Biden to take a hard line against Iran. But both countries would benefit from re-implementing the accord and lowering tensions.

End attacks on China: Trump initiated a trade war against China. He tried to ban Chinese technology from being used in the United States and even sought the arrest of a top Chinese corporate executive. But, of course, China retaliated. Trump’s policy against China has been a massive failure, with the United States losing nearly 300,000 jobs as of September 2019.

China poses no military threat to the people of the United States. China has one military base outside its territory; the United States has about 750. China now has also developed the world’s second largest economy and competes successfully with U.S. corporations. The trade war is aimed at promoting U.S. corporate profits at the expense of Chinese competitors.

With executive action, Biden could end the trade war quickly. Unfortunately, Biden has “drunk the Kool-Aid” when it comes to China. He said, “My focus will be on rallying our friends in both Asia and Europe in . . . joining us to get tough on China and its trade and technology abuses.”

Biden must shift policies on China as part of recognizing that the world has changed a lot in recent years.


Joe Biden is a mainstream Democrat who supported many of the foreign policy disasters of past presidencies. He backed the occupation of Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq War, and he strongly supports Israel against the Palestinians.

But today, the United States is considerably weaker, wracked by recession, and politically divided. People are fed up with endless wars. Regional powers such as Turkey, Russia, and Iran are exerting influence in areas formerly under U.S. domination.

If he’s smart, Biden will recognize the new reality, stop U.S. interventions, and use the money being spent on foreign wars to help our domestic economy. I’m confident he will make some promised changes but progressives will have to build grass-roots pressure to make real change.

Foreign Correspondent appears regularly in The Progressive. Reese Erlich is an adjunct professor in International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.

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